How Do Tesla Cars Work? (EVs Explained)

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Tesla was founded on the 1st of July in 2003 by a group of engineers based in San Carlos, California.

They launched their first electric car 5 years later in 2008 – the Roadster.

Since then, they have gone on to design the world’s first-ever premium all-electric sedan, the Model S, along with many more mind-boggling electric cars that all use the same cutting-edge battery technology Tesla has become so famous for.

Unique visual design aside, you may ask yourself, mechanically, how exactly do Tesla cars work?

Tesla cars, also known as EVs have an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine. They use a large traction battery pack to power the internal electric motor. Because Tesla cars run on electricity, they emit no exhaust fumes and do not contain the usual liquid fuel components, such as a fuel line, fuel pump, or fuel tank.

In this article, we aim to dissect a Tesla car and explain exactly how each component works in detail.

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How Do Tesla Cars Work?

How do Tesla cars work?

Induction Motor

The first induction motor was invented by Nikola Tesla around 100 years ago. It has two main parts, the stator, and the rotor.

The rotor is simply a collection of conducting bars short-circuited by end rings. A 3 phase AC power output is given to the stator.

The three-phase AC in the coils produces a magnetic field. Tesla motors produce a four-pole magnetic field.

This rotating magnetic field induces a current on the rotor bars to make them turn. In an induction motor, the rotor usually lags behind the rotor speed (RMF speed)

An induction motor has neither brushes nor a permanent magnet, yet remains very powerful.

The fantastic thing about induction motors is that the rotation speed depends on the frequency of the AC power supply.

This means the speed at which the wheel turns can be altered by simply varying the frequency of the power supply.

IC motors vs Tesla Induction motors

This fact makes speed control on a Tesla easy and reliable. In fact, a Tesla motor can range from 0 to 18,000 RPM.

Inverter

The battery pack is what supplies the induction motor with power.

However, it produces DC power, this means that before the supply can get to the motor, it has to be converted from DC to AC power.

This is where the inverter comes into play.

Not only does the invert convert DC to AC, but it also controls the AC power frequency, thus controlling the motor speed.

The inverter can even shift the amplitude of the AC motor which in turn controls the motor output power. Essentially, the inverter acts as the brain of the electric car.

Battery Pack

This may come as a surprise to most, but the battery packs consist of vast collections of common lithium-ion battery cells, similar to those used in your every day life.

All these cells are interconnected in a combination of series and parallel to produce the required power to run the electric car.

Glycol coolant is passed through metallic inner tubes which intertwine their way through the small gaps between the cells. This is one principle that sets Tesla apart from other electric car manufacturers.

By using many small cells instead of few big cells, essential cooling is guaranteed. This reduces thermal hot spots which produce even temperature distribution among the many cells – leading to higher battery pack life.

All these cells are arranged in detachable modules, leading to about 16 of these modules which include around 7000 cells.


Do Tesla Cars Break Down Often?

It is quite a common concern for those somewhat unfamiliar with EV technology, just how reliable are Tesla cars?

It has been proven that the Tesla Model S can continue to function well after passing 400,000 miles (643,737 km) and do not break down often. This is because electric cars do not rely on as much mechanical movement in order to function. Less moving parts mean less chance for something to break.

When it comes to fuel-powered cars, one of the main causes of a breakdown is a faulty battery.

Now, what about a Tesla car that relies on thousands of battery cells in order to work?

Well, Tesla as a company has not been collecting data long enough to answer this question accurately for all of their vehicles (especially the newer Model 3 and Model Y).

However, we do have quite a few years of data for their slightly older models, like the Model S and Model X.

Below we have created two tables breaking down each model’s battery capabilities:

Model S & XData
Average Degradation Rate Per 100,000 Miles4%
Miles Before 20% Degradation500,000
Years Before 20% Degradation15+
Charging Cycles1,000
Model 3 & YData
Average Degradation Rate Per 100,000 Miles4%
Miles Before 20% Degradation400,000
Years Before 20% Degradation10-15
Charging Cycles1500

The above data is broad estimates. Obviously, the battery retention capacities will vary from driver to driver depending on individual driving habits, driving temperature, and fast charging frequency.


What Breaks The Most On Tesla Cars?

The most common things to break on a Tesla are:

  • Suspension components
  • Brake pads

This is likely because electric cars weigh more by design than an internal combustion engine vehicle.


Is A Tesla Car Expensive To Maintain?

Below we have collected and put together data from Tesloop who has kept a record of their Tesla Model S maintenance expenses over a period of 450,000 miles.

In the table, we will focus on the following:

  • RSM – Regular scheduled maintenance
  • GVR – General vehicle repairs

Below is a summary of the tables:

Cost to Maintain a Tesla Model S (Over 450,000 miles)

RSM: $12,782
GVR: $14,823
Total: $27,604
($0,07 per mile)

MSRP Fuel Costs, 2.5 miles/kw, @ $0.26/kw for 450,000 Miles: $46,800
Fully Loaded Costs $46,800 + $27,604 = $74,404
($0,19 per mile)

Tesla Model S Maintenance Cost Breakdown

Below you will find the complete breakdown of costs, organized into a table:

Regular Scheduled Maintanence (RSM)MileagePayment TypeCost
Tire Replacement51,000Customer Pay$194
Wheel Alignment74,469Customer Pay$200
Tire Replacement75,135Customer Pay$513
Tire Replacement95,242Customer Pay$388
Tire Inspection101,303Goodwill$0
Tire Inspection111,609Goodwill$0
Tire Replacement126,419Customer Pay$389
Rear Bumper RepairsN/ACustomer Pay$1,000
Tire Inspection130,404Goodwill$0
Tire Inspection147,329Goodwill$0
Tire Replacement159,648Customer Pay$389
Wheel Alignment160,000Goodwill$0
Tire Inspection168,014Goodwill$0
Tire Inspection174,787Goodwill$0
Tire Inspection181,418Goodwill$0
Tire Inspection191,123Goodwill$0
12v Battery Replacement194,237Customer Pay$171
Tire Inspection210,235Goodwill$0
Tire Inspection218,689Goodwill$0
Replace - Front/Rear Brake Pads/Rotors225,351Customer Pay$1,759
Tire Replacement231,546Customer Pay$334
Wheel Alignment231,570Customer Pay$0
Replaced Headlights251,252Customer Pay$2,800
Tire Inspection255,345Goodwill$0
Tire Inspection265,408Goodwill$0
General Maintenance274,610Customer Pay$2,176
Tire Inspection276,984Goodwill$0
Wheel Alignment278,732Goodwill$0
Tire Replacement278,735Customer Pay$666
Dash Panel Replacements290,263Goodwill$0
Vehicle Inspection290,461Goodwill$0
Tire Inspection296,168Goodwill$0
Tire Inspection305,181Goodwill$0
Key Fob Features Turned On325,271Goodwill$0
12V Power Outlet Replacement325,271Goodwill$0
Vehicle Inspection351,816Goodwill$0
Tire Inspection351,816Goodwill$0
Tire Replacement362,821Customer Pay$362
Tire Inspection375,145Goodwill$0
Brake Check377,785Goodwill$0
Rear Suspension Check377,785Goodwill$0
Tire Repair380,058Goodwill$0
Tire ReplacementN/ACustomer Pay$100
Tire Replacement386,025Customer Pay$781
Wheel Alignment392,403Goodwill$0
Tire Replacement430,400Customer Pay$560
Total RSM$12,782
General Vehicle Repairs (GVR)MileagePayment TypeCost
Steering Column Control Module17,441Warranty$0
nav/supercharging/AP diagnosis17,441Warranty$0
Front Drive Unit36,404Warranty$0
Forward Facing Camera - Drive Cycle Calibration36,404Warranty$0
Calibrate Sunroof36,404Warranty$0
Driver Door Handle Assembly Fix36,404Warranty$0
High Voltage Battery Replacement194,237Warranty$0
Cabin HVAC Fan general Diagnosis215,668Warranty$0
Replace Rear Right Door Handle230,690Customer Pay$962
Driver Door Handle Assembly Fix235,907Customer Pay$962
New Key Fob274,019Customer Pay$123
Front Left Door Handle278,732Customer Pay$221
Replace Thermal Controller (Air Conditioning)279,127Goodwill$0
Replace AC TXV Valve Evaporator278,732Customer Pay$436
Air Conditioning290,263Customer Pay$1,351
Windshield/Window RepairN/ACustomer Pay$139
Key Fob Replacement306,072Customer Pay$141
Door Handles310,230Customer Pay$749
RR Rocket Panel Re-Attached310,230Goodwill$0
High Voltage Battery Replacement324,044Warranty$0
Additonal Key Fob Replacement325,271Customer Pay$124
Windshield/Window RepairN/ACustomer Pay$153
Replaced drivers seat base assembly377,785Customer Pay$1,364
Removed bumper and secured parking sensors377,785Goodwill$0
AC Actuator396,877Customer Pay$318
Rear Stabilizer Bar406,304Customer Pay$161
Fore link assy, RH406,304Customer Pay$185
FR SUSP AFT link assy406,304Customer Pay$240
MS RR lower control arm assy-rwk406,304Customer Pay$319
FR UPR CTRL Arm, RH, Dual motor406,304Customer Pay$260
FR link assy, LH406,304Customer Pay$185
Rear toe link, x-axis406,304Customer Pay$72
RR SUSP upper link assy, X-axis406,304Customer Pay$210
Labor & Miscellaneous406,304Customer Pay$3,500
ASY Liftgate Latch PWR REL430,398Customer Pay$39
Actuator Cinching430,398Customer Pay$64
Cable, Cinch Liftgate430,398Customer Pay$64
Labor & Miscellaneous430,398Customer Pay$280
Left Headlight & Damaged Undercarriage Replaced446,997Customer Pay$2,202.08
Total GVR$14,823
Total RSM$12,782
Total Cost$27,604
Cost/Mile$0.07
MSRP Fuel Costs, 2.5 miles/kw, @ $0.26/kw for 450,000 Miles$46,800.00
Disclaimer: This vehicle is grandfathered in with free supercharging for life.
Fully Loaded Costs$74,404
FLC/Mile$0.19

Where Can You Buy Tesla Cars?

Teslas are currently sold in the following countries:

North America
United States
Canada
Mexico
Puerto Rico
Europe
Belgium
Hungary
Czechia
Netherlands
Denmark
Norway
Austria
Germany
Poland
Estonia
Portugal
Greece
Romania
Spain
Slovakia
France
Croatia
Ireland
Slovenia
Switzerland
Iceland
Sweden
Italy
Finland
Luxemburg
United Kingdom
Middle East
United Arab Emirates
Israel
Asia/Pacific
Singapore
South Korea
China
Japan
Hong Kong
Taiwan
Australia
Macau
New Zealand

Final Thoughts

Electric cars, including that of Tesla, accounted for 2.4% of U.S. cars sold in 2020, up from 0.7% five years ago.

Research indicates that share to increase to 11% in 2025 and by 2030, slightly over a third of vehicles sold in the U.S. will be electric.

If you’d like to order a Tesla go ahead and do so at the official Tesla website.

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Kyle Browning

Kyle is a researcher and content specialist at Climatebiz. He has a strong interest in green technology, particularly in photovoltaic systems. Kyle believes in a future where everyone has affordable access to renewable energy, regardless of their race, religion, or social status. This ideology led Kyle to found Climatebiz - with the goal to provide free information for anyone, anytime.

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